When Gecko Press founder Julia Marshall decided to start a boutique children’s book publishing house she chose Wellington as her base because “after living in Europe for nine years, I really wanted to live in a city that felt like it was a walking city and a compact city but also a city city”. Since 2005 her company has published dozens of titles for all ages, from pre-schoolers to young adults, acquiring and translating beautiful international books for the English-language market but also publishing titles by Wellington writers such as Joy Cowley, Dylan Owen, Barbara Else and Elizabeth Knox.
On the eve of the New Zealand Festival Writers Week, Marshall tells FishHead about her favourite Wellington haunts and why Writers Week is a great event for publishers as well as writers and readers.
If it’s been a hard week at work and I’m in need of a drink I’ll be at… Mighty Mighty (although not for much longer) or the Matterhorn. I do love Cuba Street. The Laundry is quite fun. It was a good dry-cleaner’s too!
Then the next day if I need a slap-up feed and a cup of Wellington’s finest coffee I’ll be at… Havana on Tory Street. I really like everything about it. Gecko Press are often to be found at The Jimmy (inside the St James Theatre). It’s very close to our office so I can just nip down there through the ‘Mermaid Lane’. We can just about have boardroom meetings there.
I always find if you need some culture you can’t go past… Children’s Bookshop in Kilbirnie! Not to move my books to the front of the shelves, I should make that clear! I think the City Gallery and Te Papa are great places for a hangout – and, of course, drifting around all of Wellington’s little galleries.
My favourite Wellington landmark has to be… the sea! I have a really bad sense of direction so it is really helpful for me.
I know I shouldn’t, but Wellington’s best-kept secret is… Red Rocks. I’m just thinking about this at the moment because we’ve got all these authors coming in from overseas for Writers Week and I’m busy thinking about where to take them. It’s really strongly Wellington isn’t it? It’s a good walk. Shelly Bay is another of my best-kept secrets. I think those buildings are just fantastic.
The best thing about Writers Week is… bringing in writers who are not normally seen here and giving them a chance to meet Wellington people – it’s as much about them having a really great New Zealand experience as it is for the Gecko Press enthusiasts here to meet them.
We’ve got Ulf Stark, who wrote one of the first books that Gecko Press published, Can You Whistle, Johanna? That was sort of the start of Gecko Press. And I’m really looking forward to Leo Timmers – another book of his was one of our early bestsellers which got us up and running.
The best way to get into publishing is… the Whitireia Publishing course. We’re really lucky to have that in Wellington. There are good students who come out of there and we always have one every year who helps us out one day a week.